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Ask Dr. Nandi: Why parents are turning to a controversial treatment for food allergies

Posted at 5:55 PM, Aug 16, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-16 20:19:57-04

(WXYZ) — With the rise in food allergies, worried parents are turning to a controversial treatment in hopes of protecting their children from a potentially life-threatening reaction.

It’s called OIT - oral immunotherapy. Basically, a person consumes a tiny amount of the food they’re allergic to. And over time, the amount gets increased.

The goal is to desensitize the body’s immune response, because when you’re allergic to a food, your immune system attacks that food protein. And when that happens, you can experience symptoms like hives, itchiness, swelling, and wheezing.

The most dangerous reaction is anaphylaxis, which can be life-threatening if not treated immediately with epinephrine. And the fear of this happening is what drives many parents to seek out this controversial treatment.

Thousands of patients who have tried OIT say it’s been life-changing for them.

But let’s look at the research, one study involved 39 people with a peanut allergy. Of those, 29 completed oral immunotherapy treatment. And 27 of them actually passed an oral food challenge with roughly 16 peanuts. Now that is a pretty small number but it opened the door for allergists to administer OIT in their private-practice. '

One allergist in particular found that 80 percent of his patients become “bite-proof”. Now that sounds amazing but it also shows that OIT does not work for everyone.

I know many in the medical field who consider this treatment to be experimental and investigational, they feel more research is needed. And I get that, because right now we don’t have enough evidence showing how safe and effective OIT is long-term. So it’s certainly not considered a cure.

And then of course there’s the risk of side effects, the most concerning one is that someone could die from anaphylaxis.

Plus, the FDA has not approved oral immunotherapy, however that may change in early 2020, when a decision is expected regarding a treatment called Aimmune Therapeutics, otherwise known as peanut capsules. But as a parent, I can understand how you can worry over children with food allergies.

Always wondering if the worst might happen someday. But one thing we know for sure, avoiding the food allergen is the only way to avoid an allergic reaction.

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